Network trial shows consumers – and networks – benefit from battery storage

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The first completed battery storage trial by an Australian network operator has shown that the combined benefits of battery storage nearly match the costs of technology, and should exceed them as battery storage costs continue to fall.

AusNet Services’ three-year battery storage trial, the results of which were released on Thursday, tested a range of ways to use residential batteries, including exporting electricity into the grid at peak demand times, that might delay or offset costly network investment.battery storage

The trial tested battery systems using five different ways of providing demand management, including varying the source of battery charging (off peak grid electricity or solar) and varying the balance between targeting customer benefits or network benefits.

It also explored the potential of residential batteries to flatten customer demand profiles – and thus reduce electricity bills; to manage the peaks in network demand; and improve the integration of residential solar power into the network.

The trial found that a typical residential customer with solar panels could save $1,500 over five years by adding a battery storage system, and $3,500 over the lifetime of the system. Those benefits could increase by one third if customers took up flexible pricing tariffs.

The potential benefit for a network from the same system – depending on its location – could be double that amount, at $3,000 over five years. That mostly comes from avoided network spending, but this value could increase by 10 per cent if load levelling was also included.

“Combining the maximum customer benefits of $3,500 over first five years with the potential network peak demand benefits of $3,300 yields a combined present benefit of $6,800,” the report says.

“This falls some way short of the 2018 forecast total cost of $10,700. However, the shortfall could feasibly be made up through either non-financial customer benefits, benefits that vest with other parties such as energy retailers, or further technology cost reductions over a period of around 5 years.”

There are also non-financial customer benefits , such as increased energy independence and backup power supply provision. The value to customers of these benefits may be significant, but is not yet known with sufficient certainty to include in an analysis, the report said.

“The findings show that network businesses have real incentives to support the take-up of this new technology,” said AusNet spokesman Alistair Parker. “There are an estimated 1.4 million solar systems in Australia that, if paired with residential battery systems, could revolutionise the role these customer assets play at the macro-grid level.

But Parker stressed that while the benefits for both consumers and networks looked to be substantial, facilitating the smooth, fair and efficient take-up of battery storage remained a “massive challenge” for industry and policy makers.

“Network businesses must understand how to integrate these technologies into the existing grid before they penetrate the mass market, causing massive network disruption. It’s only early days, but this trial is a milestone along that path,” he said.

On battery system costs, the trial found that these were “still generally uneconomic” at this time, even factoring in customer and network benefits.

But the rapid evolution of the technology meant that it was likely to become economic in the “near future,” either through the development of business models that unlock additional value, or through continuing technology cost reduction.  

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  • Mike Dill

    Thanks for the article. As presented, most storage is not economic at this time. As prices come down, storage will be economic in the near future. Some manufactures are predicting the cost of storage to drop by 50% in the next four years. Storage at $0.10/kWh over the guaranteed lifetime of the product already makes economic sense in some situations, and will make a lot more economic sense at half that price.
    This is a very good look at the present situation. If the integrated utilities and networks do not get into gear, the future will leave them behind.

  • Geoff James

    It’s great to see this trial concluded and reported, thanks for sharing these results, which show that residential batteries are more-or-less viable. And that’s enough to see the market grow quickly. As noted, there are substantial non-financial benefits, people are fascinated by storage and will pay for it – particularly through sophisticated offerings with reduced up-front costs, which may be favoured by retailers wishing to lock in customers and access wholesale price hedging, and by smart vendors. The network benefit is highly locational, multi-faceted, and with the right toolkit could enable new storage-enabled network planning and management practices – a growth opportunity for network businesses worried about their future. So, customers and utilities alike, get on board the freedom train.